A NOVICE turned award-winning baker has found her niche in the market making pretzels — a skill that is "so dangerous" that hardly anyone takes on the challenge.

The majority of the UK's soft-dough pretzels are imported frozen and half-baked due to the risk involved in their creation.

But Bavarian-born baker Angelika Searle has found a way to produce the traditional bakes from her kitchen in Bradshaw, Bolton.

Since taking the decision to enter the market just over one year ago, her products have taken off, and the mum-of-two has received requests for batches of 2,000.

Mrs Searle, aged 54, said: "I had never baked pretzels before.

"My research found there was only a handful of German bakers but they sell them on a local scale. I realised there was a chance I could really go big with this.

"You buy pretzels in the shop here because they are so dangerous to make. You have to work with caustic soda, dipping the pretzels in it before they go in the oven.

"It is a very dangerous chemical, commonly used as a drain anti-blocker.

"The chemical is neutralised in the baking process, but before it is baked, you have to wear rubber gloves and goggles to protect yourself.

"I once spilt two litres of it over the table and floor and everything turned white, but thankfully you can neutralise it with vinegar."

Mrs Searle moved to the UK 12 years ago with husband Alaric, who she met in Germany.

Mr Searle, aged 55, is a Professor of Modern European History at the University of Salford.

At that time, Mrs Searle was a stay-at-home mum who worked part-time at St Maxentius CE Primary School in Bradshaw.

As her children grew up, Mrs Searle looked for other work, including a position as an occupational therapist and furniture maker.

But it was going back to her roots, her family who "always baked", that made Mrs Searle realise there was a gap in the market.

She said: "No one was baking German foods, so I began making Christmas biscuits. I had 25 different bakes on my plate.

"I took that heritage and started with biscuits, launching on the artisan market in 2015."

Mrs Searle registered her business in 2014 and began trading among friends at first.

In 2015, Mrs Searle entered the Great Taste Awards with her Bavarian Black Bun and to her amazement, she went on to win top prize – three gold stars from the The Guild of Fine Food.

She said: "I couldn't believe it. The bun has dried fruit and nuts in the middle and is wrapped in bread dough. It is from Bavarian heritage.

"I was whittled down to the final 123 of more than 10,000 products. That was a massive achievement.

"It was similar to a Michelin star. It is very prestigious within the food industry."

In January 2017, with Christmas behind her, Mrs Searle looked to expand her product range and introduced home-made Bavarian and alpine bakes to her offering, including pretzels, strudel and stollen.

Her range of pretzel goods includes the traditional plain salted variety as well as her own flavours and discoveries, such as chilli con carne, cheese and bacon and more.

She said: "You name it, I bake it. People are not aware of what you can do with them.

"Many people think of pretzels as being brittle and dry. But with the soft dough bakes, you can have any filling; you can dunk them in chocolate or dip them in hummus."

Mrs Searle is now set to open her very own bakery — Pretzel & Spelt — in Bolton.

She is also one of four contestants who will appear in the final heat of BBC's Top of the Shop at 8pm tonight.

Mrs Searle thanked friend and fellow baker Kelly Sherrington, from Bolton, who helped her in Yorkshire during the filming.

She has entered the 'baked goods' category and will go head-to-head against three other food producers in a bid to win the title 'best up and coming artisan' and make the final.

Each of the participants have fledgling businesses and try their products on visitors to a farm shop in Malhamdale, in the Yorkshire Dales.